Our World. Our Minutae.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Apple BOOT CAMP - Future Software? Who Needs It?

Yes, no one really knows what's going to happen in regards to developers and Mac apps going forward but here are some things to consider:

"AVERAGE" CONSUMERS - For most consumers, they are pretty much covered with iLife, Safari, Mail & Front Row. You have Dashboard to add nearly any little add-on feature & functionality you want. Most are free or cost no more than $20. They will probably buy a few utilities - which pretty much has to be OS specific for virii, file management, and repairs. We are seeing more and more apps that run on the web itself - of course, there is WRITELY, you can fax online (or use the built in OSX feature), and even do your taxes online now. Clearly the trend is moving many apps online to use temporarily or pay-as-you-go, even MS is talking about offering that functionality because honestly, most people do not need much more word processing functionality beyond tabbing, making things bold and spell checking.

The big category is of course, GAMES. Let's face facts. Even if Macs got to a 25% market share for consumers, most game programmers still have to re-learn how to program for a Mac (versus using MS's components/ graphics/rendering tools, etc ...) and the fact, PC games are a shrinking market so they are clearly going to chase those remaining dollars and not worry about writing to the Mac audience - an audience that is also much pickier and stringent about user interface guidelines - while PC gamers will accept any interface as long as they start playing the game, a port of a game to a Mac not only has to play well, but the game must look & feel like a Mac app - otherwise, it's dead. And of course, once PS3 and Nintendo's Revolution comes out, how much more processing power does a PC offer over those games? MS makes more money from selling Xbox games (they get a % of every Xbox game sold whether it's from MS or not) and ZERO from PC games they did not create themselves so MS has an incentive to make sure the best play is from an Xbox game and not XP/Vista.

Of course, most games not only offer an online component, quite a few games are really just online - especially the MMP games - once you are online, it hardly what OS you are running as long as you have a large screen and in most cases, a fast computer - as quite a few real world examples can attest, the Intel Macs seem to run some PC games faster under Dual Boot versus an Intel Pc just running XP (with the same Intel processor - of course, a true desktop Intel Mac is not out yet). The pattern was quite clear - while a few heavyweight games were ported to the Mac, some were always a few months behind the PC versions or in some cases, years behind ... Or there simply wasn't a Mac version - yes, the best solution would've been to get a Mac port but you can't bend everybody's will - it is better for Apple to sell Macs by being able to gather in online PC gamers who might consider a Mac now that they can hop right online and pick up right where they left off?

Does this hurt future Mac ports? Yes. But isn't that the direction of the industry anyway? To move most everything online or to consoles?  Once virtualization is presumably added to 10.5 (LEOPARD), won’t it feel pretty seamless and feel Mac-like with Finder bar, your itunes playing, a dashboard widget up and playing a “PC-game” on the left side?

Again, just for ‘average’ consumers, isn’t Apple counting on them to use OSX, to use iLife and be hooked so they’ll spend more time there? These new Mac users will clamor for more Mac-like apps so they don’t have to launch the XP virtualization?

Aren’t the tools that Apple provides now and the framework of OSX pretty good so that we are getting some amazing “small-shop” apps like DELICIOUS, CARBON COPY CLONER or MAC THE RIPPER (just to name 3)? Why would these smaller developers change? Why would they stop developing for Macs? Isn’t the audience growing ever larger and presumably ever larger with the addition of quasi-switchers? If you look at overall personal computer app development in the past 2-3 years, what are some of the new & innovative apps? Are we missing anything on the Mac side? Or is the PC side pretty stagnant? Look at the widgets on the Mac side and the PC side – there is no comparison. The Mac side is clearly the showcase side for developers – with the broad acceptance of the internet, there’s no real need to find a publisher. You just do it. Post it. Get feedback and either keep it small and compact to do one thing – and one thing great – or keep it growing larger. That’s not going to change in the next few years. For consumer-oriented second tier publishers like Symantec or Intuit who seem to losing interest in the Mac, the reality is that it hardly matters – Norton Utilities has been nicely replaced by Micromat or ProSoft’s products – with internet distribution, with online stores – you don’t need to be a major player to get sales – you just need to develop a quality product.

“ADVANCED USERS” - This is of course the more difficult question. MS is actual more straightforward. Since they make more per sale at Mac Office (PC Office is discounted heavily and bundled with computers or maintenance contracts), there’s no real reason to stop selling it. They have pretty much developed 99.99% of all the features it’s ever going to get and if we truly move to the web based apps, it won’t matter at all. People using Excel are not going to switch anyway and of course, the rumor of APPLE’s mysterious NUMBERS app is that it’s a spreadsheet if MS every stops selling Excel but really – it’s a spreadsheet – yawn. Same thing with PowerPoint. It’s really more perception than anything else. By using your mail app & its spell checker, you are pretty much using 90% of the features most people use in WORD anyway. Even it’s specialty functions are replicated with a widget like envelope or label printing. The bigger question is ADOBE now with DreamWeaver, PhotoShop, InDesign, etc ... Adobe seems to have never gotten over Apple trying to dump Postscript as a page description language in Apple’s laserprinters and on-screen display years and years ago ... And Apple crushing Premiere with iMovie & at the high end with FCP didn’t help Adobe’s lingering bitterness. Never mind that Adobe neglected Premiere and told the guy who developed an all new easy to use movie editing app to take a hike ... Which he did to Apple who later called it iMovie. If given a choice, I honestly believe Adobe would prefer not to have to develop any apps for the Mac and probably don’t understand why Mac users are so damn loyalty and vocal. That I think is the only reason Adobe will not stop development for most apps on the Mac – they are really not that large ($2 Billion in sales) so they cannot afford to tick off Mac users (well, anymore than they already have). Apple adding dual booting should put a halt to any companies who try to yank out Macs in their creative departments ... The cold dead hands, prying thing certainly applies here ... And of course, APERATURE is about 2 upgrades from matching the functions that most people use in PhotoShop. Don’t get me wrong – PhotoShop is still a world class app and unlike Word or Excel, hard to make a web app but its base of users is not going to substantially increase – as Picasa, iPhoto ,etc ... Have taken away any chance of it ever becoming more popular (and of course, Elements from Adobe themselves). So, why would Adobe go out of its way to antagonize its strident, vocal and willing to take the streets Mac users? It probably isn’t – at least not for years and years to come ... And by then, Apple & Mac users may not care ... Maybe it’s GIMP, maybe it’s yet another secret Apple app but for the foreseeable future (two years), nothing should change much. The Adobe apps not available on the Mac will still not be available but the others, they’ll still be available. What’s true of second tier consumer apps is also true of smaller high-end/enterprise or IT apps – the users are willing to pay the price for the apps they want to use in the OS format they prefer – from FileMaker to Chronos to BBEdit, that won’t change very much.

So, while change and the unknown easily startles some people – the market and user situation is that the software retail hegemony era is already over.

  1. With Apple (and MS) providing a lot of apps onboard, a lot of categories have simply diminished already.
  2. With the ease of establishing a new software brand online through downloads and perhaps eventually through online retailers, the users and reviews are your advertising and channel distribution.
  3. With the cost of storage dropping, you have “online” apps like FLICKR, YOUTUBE, GMAIL (and dozens of others) that serve as a part of your desktop – and with you being online always – feels just like another HDD.
  4. Even the growing power of console tends to diminish the importance of the ‘games’ factor.
  5. We live in the ‘hacker’ era – if you don’t provide the solution, somebody somewhere will. It might be a teenage boy, it might be 3 people who quit to form their own company or it might even be someone like Apple who drops a hack like BOOT CAMP :-)

Will there be some old-time Mac developer that folds up shop or moves to the Windows side? Sure but just as there will be some Windows developers suddenly get emails and cries for a “Mac” version and now that they both are are running on the same chips - their excuses will only sound flimsier – and more importantly – if you fail to deliver what people want – people will simply write their own and post it – others will improve and pretty soon you have the equivalent for free or at a very low cost that’s sometimes way better than the retail version. Yes, I know some people jump at any change and think of the worst case scenario and yes it will be different but the past is the past anyway. Who knows what the future will bring but it won’t be dull – that’s for sure.

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